Thursday, May 18, 2023

BOOK REVIEW: Planetfall (Planetfall, #1) by Emma Newman

Planetfall is the first book in the acclaimed  Planetfall series written by Emma Newman.  It is the fourth of her books that I have read; Newman has stated the Planetfall books are written to be read in any order. I read them in the order second (After Atlas), fourth ( Atlas Alone), third (Before Mars ), and first (Planetfall). It’s curious because all the books reference the main event of the series, which is the departure of the interstellar rocket Atlas with roughly 1000 colonists under the guidance of the Pathfinder Lee Suh-mi to a planet where Lee claims they will find God. So, one would think that the first book is about this seminal event in the series, but it’s not. Even the main events in Planetfall take place several decades after the seminal event (it turns out that all four books are set roughly in a time frame under a year or so from each other, just in very different locations).

In Planetfall, most of the events happen roughly two decades after the colonists arrive on the planet. They seem to be well acclimated to their extraterrestrial environs. They have deliberately engineered their living conditions to be such that it is sustainable and low-impact  or no-impact on the environmental resources of their new home world. However, at the point the reader enters the story this comfortable lifestyle is disrupted by the appearance of an outsider, someone who is the grandson of the Pathfinder herself, and bears a clear familial resemblance to her.

We are primarily told the story of events from the perspective of Ren (Renata Ghali) whom we discover was one of the chief engineers responsible for the successful Atlas mission to the planet and has served as one of the primary technological resources and fix-it mechanics for the colony since they landed.

Having read all of the four books in the series I realize now a common theme is that the protagonist/main character in each book  is an unreliable narrator; each one has either had mental health issues or a medical history is revealed that causes the reader to question the veracity and accuracy of what we are being told about events. Interestingly, in three of the four books this protagonist has been female. In Planetfall, it takes quite a while before the reader realizes the extent to which Ren has been hiding important information from the reader that reveals she has a serious mental condition. I don't want to reveal what it is but one of the most significant impacts of the book is when the reader is allowed to fully perceive reality from Ren's perspective as mediated by her mental condition; the effect is devastating.

However, Ren’s issues are really a side issue to the primary plot of Planetfall; the last 20 pages has multiple extremely significant revelations and stunning dénouements. Again I don't want to be too specific about details in order to spoil things but suffice it to say that we learn why the Pathfinder felt that she was bringing humanity to meet God, and we get information and see events that have potentially irreversible consequence for the long term survival of the colony (and thus humanity itself). In fact, it's the ending of Planetfall that makes this entry the most impactful of the books in the series in my opinion. I strongly hope that the author goes on to continue the story beyond where the events in Planetfall, After Mars or Atlas Alone conclude. Overall, that should tell you all you need to know about the Planetfall  books: they leave you wanting more!

Title: Planetfall.
Author: Emma Newman.
Format: Kindle.
Length: 328 pages.
Publisher: Scribner.
Date Published: September 6, 2015.
Date Read: May 1, 2023.

★★½☆ (4.5/5.0).

OVERALL GRADE: A- (3.83/4.0).


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